THE weather was in playful mood in Glen Coe, the wandering mists and curtains of rain enabling only sporadic views of the mountains. A typical Scottish day, in other words.
We felt sorry for the young Italian tourists standing next to us. All that way, for a fleeting glimpse of what might have been. We sympathised. Somehow we felt responsible for something outwith our control.
But they told us this was exactly what they had come to see, Glen Coe in moody conditions. It's what they had pictured. They could have sunshine any time at home.
It wasn't the first time I had heard this. One German hitcher told me she was fed up of days of wall to wall sunshine in Scotland. She had come here for the mist and rain. And the chance of bumping into Sam Heughan, of course.
Whoever thought the world would be envious of our continuously contrary weather? It's always fascinating to see ourselves through the eyes of others.
During the 2018 full moon ascents for my book, Mountains of the Moon, I was accompanied at times by various guests, in an attempt to bring a different perspective to the night walks.
One of those guests was Rachael, a young New Zealander I first met while we were working together as guides at the Arran Mountain Festival. I was interested to hear how she thought Scotland compared to her homeland. The fact she had also climbed in the real Mountains of the Moon – the Rwenzori in east Africa – was an unexpected bonus.
Like so many from Australasia, Rachael has generational links to Scotland and a taste for world travel, so it was almost inevitable she would end up wandering our hills.
New Zealand's mountains and climate are often regarded as a mirror image to our own, and although Rachael agrees there are similarities she is unequivocal in her belief that there is no other landscape in the world quite like Scotland's.
She said: “The mountains here are wonderful. I remember standing on Ben Lawers late one March day and looking at the expanse of white-capped peaks stretching on and on. I was only an hour from the car yet I felt I was in amongst a mountain range spanning hundreds of miles, wild and beautiful. I don't get that feeling in Europe and I have hiked for weeks in the Himalayas without really having that feeling of escaping into the wild because of the proximity of human life.
"In New Zealand, the treeline is much higher and the mountains are extensively covered, so it's almost impossible to walk off the cut tracks as the forest is so dense. You can’t just walk wherever you want as you can often do in Scotland.”
She also loves the more pronounced contrast in the seasons here, the longer summer days and the shorter winter ones, and it comes as no surprise that winter is her favourite time of year in the mountains.
“When the first snow arrives, the days have that dusky blue light and the colour of the lochs is almost black. The birch trees have lost their leaves and they turn the hillsides purple, the slopes are threaded with bands of gold from the dead bracken contrasted against the white of the snow. It's so unique, such a special experience.
Age is also a major factor, the fact that Scotland's landscape is so ancient compared to the young upstart Down Under. The evidence of the forces of nature across millennia are visible everywhere.
Rachael said: “The first time I stood on Ben Macdui on a clear day was so memorable, taking in that view into the Lairig Ghru, that immense, perfectly formed U-shaped valley, and trying to comprehend the power. New Zealand is a younger landscape. Those glacial valleys are still full of ice, and the forces forming the mountains are still felt right under your feet.”
She reckons the Cuillin ridge provided the best mountaineering day she's ever had, and An Teallach proved a bit special as well.
“It was spectacular, the first clear day after a storm, and there was loads of fresh snow, It felt so untouched, we saw no one all day. It seemed such a vast expanse of wilderness. It's varied and interesting; the proximity to the sea, the weather moving in off the water. It’s a wonderful part of the world.”
When it comes to mountain access, Rachael feels our right to roam laws are the envy of the world and that Scotland has set a precedent others should follow. In her homeland, access rights cover national park areas but that's only around a third of the country.
It's sometimes easy to overlook the privileges we have in this wonderful part of the world. Next time the rain is sweeping in and the cloud is hunkered down on the hills, try to remember how lucky you are.